A couple of weeks ago, I sat outside a financial adviser’s office looking at a rack of scholarship pamphlets and wondering what in the world I was doing with my life. I had to go to the bathroom really, really badly, but I didn’t know where it was and I didn’t want to ask. That sounds stupid, I know, but I’d probably asked about 100 questions that afternoon (Where do I get my student ID? Where is the bookstore? How do I get a parking permit? Does LS stand for Life Sciences? Am I eligible for an unsubsidized loan? What does UOC stand for? When will those books arrive? How much are copies? Where is the copy machine? What is the copy machine use policy? Can you sign me up? Can you change a five? Can I go home now?), and I couldn’t bring myself to ask one more. So I just sat there for a while, staring at FAFSA forms, collecting enough pieces of my shattered ego to go interrupt yet another person from a phone call or computer screen long enough to point me to the nearest ladies’ room.
I started grad school this semester. I’m on my way to an MA in English Literature and Rhetoric. A big step forward, right? You’d think so, but that’s not what it felt like. I felt more lost than I did as a 17-year-old on my first day of undergrad studies. Back then we had orientation week and family groups and dorm parties and lots of smiling people to help newbies feel right at home. It’s a different world for a part-time grad student. You’d better figure it out all by yourself and figure it out fast and don’t count on anyone to notice your deer-in-the-headlights look and ask if you need help.
By the time I made it to my first class (Research Methods and Theory), I was so stressed, confused, and overwhelmed that my normally outgoing personality turtled up in a tight shell, and I sat with a room full of classmates for three hours without looking at or speaking to anyone. They probably thought I was some anti-social nerd taking classes on research for fun. How did this happen? I’ve spent the last six years in my profession gaining confidence and assertiveness, taking initiative and effectively leading both students and peers. How did all of that evaporate in a single afternoon of feeling like an idiot?
Thankfully, the guest lecturer in class that night was the librarian. She was a smiling, helpful lady who gave us cards and said that we could write any questions we had about the library on those cards and she would answer them the next week. I looked at my card blankly. One question? I had about 42 questions about the library, and most of them were so banal I couldn’t bring myself to write them down. So I just wrote, “Well, I’m new, so I don’t have any questions yet.”
As William Riley Parker once wrote, “Strike while the irony is hot.”